Ochenski: Playing chicken 

Bush getting a free ride from compliant Congress

It’s been two months since President Bush strutted aross the deck of an aircraft carrier brazenly announcing our “mission” in Iraq had been “accomplished.” Yet with each passing day, American troops continue to be wounded, maimed or killed in violent, armed conflict there. In the meantime, rivers of money are hemorrhaging from this country as unemployment hits its highest level in a decade. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were supposed to be such an imminent threat to our country that President Bush and Congress defied world opinion to launch the Iraq war, remain mysteriously missing. But so what? Bush is off to look at Africa’s oil, and Montana’s congressional delegation just doesn’t care.

Let’s start with Denny Rehberg, Montana’s junior congressman and our sole representative to the U.S. House. In an interview with veteran Washington, D.C. reporter Ted Monoson, Rehberg said he doesn’t want to get into “word games” about what a weapon of mass destruction might be. According to Rep. Rehberg: “A weapon of mass destruction doesn’t have to be a nuclear reactor sitting in a facility waiting to blow up. A weapon that can do large damage to human populations—kill a million or more people—can be put in a U-Haul trailer.”

Right out of the chute, it’s of some concern that Montana’s lone representative believes nuclear reactors are “waiting to blow up.” The nuclear energy industry has always claimed that a thermonuclear explosion cannot happen at a nuclear reactor. That the most serious nuclear reactor accidents to date, at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, have “melted down” rather than “blown up” bolsters their argument. It would seem, however, that in spite of the best efforts of a phalanx of nuclear energy lobbyists, (who successfully scored billions for new nuke plants in the House-passed energy bill), our boy Denny remains a little fuzzy on the details.

What’s far more troubling than Rehberg’s misunderstanding of the difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, however, is his attitude toward congressional investigations into whether intelligence data was manipulated to overstate Iraq’s capability for mass destruction. Even if such weapons “can be put in a U-Haul,” as Rehberg contends, no weapons-filled U-Haul has yet been found. Consequently, other, perhaps more conscientious congressmen are demanding investigations into the intelligence information that spurred the Iraq war. Rehberg, however, says: “Why get diverted at a time when we have a lot of other things we want to deal with? If there are certain members who want to spend time on an investigation, I can’t keep them from doing it, but I think it’s a mistake to spend time on it.” Instead, Rehberg thinks: “We should talk about Iran and Korea and the other situations that we are involved in.” So let’s get this straight. Denny doesn’t want to investigate the potentially faulty or misused intelligence that sent the nation to an unprecedented pre-emptive war in Iraq—he just wants to talk about other actions the warmongering Bush administration might have up its sleeve for Iran, Korea, or “other situations that we are involved in.” Which begs the question: If you can’t trust the intelligence upon which major military decisions are based, how can anyone possibly make sound decisions in the future? Apparently, such logical conundrums don’t matter much to Rehberg, as he maintains that no matter what the “studies” find, “we made the right decision.” Obviously, once you’ve “made the right decision,” there’s no need to look too closely at how it got made. Conrad Burns, Denny’s Repub counterpart in the U.S. Senate, isn’t worried about the details either, saying simply: “I am not concerned about it. We’ll find them or we’ll find where they were stored.” Such blind faith is perhaps understandable from Montana’s Republican delegation to Congress; after all, these days the Repubs march in lockstep with Bush, no matter where he leads them. What’s puzzling and disturbing is why a Democrat like Sen. Max Baucus would do the same.

When questioned about the missing weapons of mass destruction, Baucus blithely replied: “Saddam is a bad man and he needed to go either way. He was a threat to security and stability in the region, and a threat to his own people. We did the right thing.” Apparently Max sees nothing wrong with deploying the young men and women in our military to go around the world getting rid of “bad” men—a sort of tremendously expensive global cleansing in which the U.S. gets to decide who should stay and who should go.

That we haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction, after what is arguably the most intense search our vast military and intelligence agencies could muster, Baucus is likewise flippant, saying: “”We shouldn’t close the door to it, but we should be cautious and we shouldn’t rush to make a judgment. Our work in Iraq is far from over. I think we should let it play out a little first.”

Given his position as a senior senator in Washington, D.C., it seems all too easy for Baucus to rationalize away what history may well record as one of America’s worst-ever military decisions. But those with loved ones facing the daily toll of mayhem and murder in Iraq will find little comfort in Max’s concept of letting it “play out a little first”—especially with President Bush taunting the militants to “bring it on.”

It is interesting to note that the White House waited until Bush was out of the country this week to announce that “…the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.”

In spite of his tough war talk, “Chicken George” Bush didn’t have the courage to personally admit to the American people that he lied about Iraq’s nuclear threat.

That not even one of Montana’s congressional delegates has the guts to back further investigation into how and why our country went to war is even worse.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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